In a letter today to Mr. Garner, who will oversee the initial stages of Iraq's transition, Human Rights Watch drew lessons from the organization's experience monitoring post-conflict programs in other places, including Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan.
"The key to such transitions is a radical change in the human rights climate," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The fall of Saddam Hussein doesn't automatically bring about a new climate, and monitors on the ground are critical in assessing the human rights situation."
Human Rights Watch stressed the obligation of the occupying forces to restore and ensure public order and safety. The occupying forces may need to rely on some elements of the existing local police and security forces to maintain security in the immediate situation, Human Rights Watch said. But longer-term, occupying forces need to screen and vet all local officials, police and other security personnel to remove any human rights abusers from their ranks.
Human Rights Watch noted the experience of the Balkans, where abusive security officials left in place after the conflict continued to commit human rights violations or obstruct processes of accountability and reform.
U.S. and international personnel contracted through private companies to assist with law enforcement and security also need to be held accountable to the highest standards, Human Rights Watch said. It expressed concern, for instance, about the contract already awarded to DynCorp to assist with law enforcement efforts.
In a November 2002 report on trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Human Rights Watch found that DynCorp's personnel had participated in human rights violations and the company has not done enough to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent such activities.
Human Rights Watch called on Mr. Garner to ensure that urgent steps be taken to secure and preserve evidence, such as mass grave sites and official documentation, which might serve as evidence in prosecuting Iraqi officials for past human rights abuses, and in identifying remains of some of the thousands of people who "disappeared" under Saddam Hussein's rule. Human Rights Watch has called for the establishment of an international tribunal to try war crimes, crimes against humanity and other grave violations.
Human Rights Watch also highlighted a range of concerns for the protection of people who have been internally displaced by the conflict. The occupying power needs to prevent further forced displacement, such as that already seen in Kirkuk, and provide security to internally displaced persons in camps. Conditions need to be created that allow the displaced to return to their homes, resolve property disputes and prevent violent acts of revenge and retribution. Human Rights Watch urged Mr. Garner to ensure that women participate fully in the reconstruction program, and that special priority be given to the needs of children.
Human Rights Watch called on the United States and its allies to invite the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to deploy independent human rights monitors throughout the country.
Human Rights Watch also stressed that humanitarian agencies should be allowed to operate independently in the country, and that the United Nations should be given the lead role in coordinating the provisions of humanitarian assistance.
"As the occupying power, the United States and its allies have important legal obligations for the protection and welfare of the Iraqi people," said Roth. "They must fulfill the promises they have made to restore the rule of law and human rights in Iraq."